Merzbow/Genesis P-Orridge | A Perfect Pain
Cold Spring (LP/CD/DL)
The forces of a duo like that of Merzbow (Masami Akita) and Genesis P-Orridge are pretty powerful. These recordings by two of the most notable underground artists of the last several decades were made back in 1998, and this re-release will appear on vinyl for the first time — and this is the third edition via CD (here on a redesigned digipak). The track order on each is slightly different and the LP version edited by about nine minutes of material for the medium. I’ve got the lengthier version to discuss. It’s a great opportunity to take a hard look back at a recording that defined and defied its era, and it’s impossible to think this was released two decades ago.
It’s important (to me) to point out that this was a time of transition for P-Orridge, slowly blurring the gender lines, bringing about a new sensibility of pandrogeny. It was also in-between active periods for both Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle (who would make a brief return much later, only to come to a finale in 2009). Merzbow, on the other hand, barely breaks from his sonic creativity, and when the two of these artists come together….
A Perfect Restraint opens with Merzbow’s whirling industrial gauziness, like a tripwire. P-Orridge in a spoken word that is unmistakable yet barely audible in terms of message, as the voice becomes one with the granular mix. This shifts dramatically on Flowering Pain Given Space where the dense multiplicity is more like microsound, and the refrain “I don’t feel very well, sickly in a strange way” echoes fully-frontal. The synths bring an edgy distortion to P-Orridge’s vocal, as it recedes and becomes really pixelated.
The gait of the piece slows, as do the vocal treatments, there is an uncertain caustic quality, even when this is at its most minimal. An unnerving rattle that actually has a slight funky quality emerges, proving that even the most sonic of noise projects can still have a soul. This promise is not dashed for the second half of the track which is like a firehose gone mad, all to a cosmic beat. I’m reminded of mid-90’s PTV actually, all with a bit of a frenetic sound sculpture built around it like a glass wall. We can look out, but only from the perspective of being locked inside a bloated structure with pulsating sound effects.
A fiery start, like a steel factory in full swing as Genesis murmurs “Each day we will embrace the holy...” This is the lengthy centerpiece of the record, Source Are Rare. Under the voice is a white noise transmission, glazed over with feedback and sizzle. When the words “Your mysteries, suffocated” are unfurled, it makes perfect sense in this agitated setting. One of the striking qualities of A Perfect Pain is the way in which the poetic content emerges as fluidly as it becomes slipstreamed into the mix, as if spoken in translucid tongues. Of the five works here, this is the most immersive, bleeding well beyond its edges, and not at all for the faint ear.
Kreeme Horn kickstarts with a cyclical beat that skips and rotates like a conveyor belt, a industrial mechanism, keeping time. Lines like “given there’s many different possible ways of interpreting ones mysterious existence, this is less than obnoxious….” add a conversational tone to the record, an inner conversation most likely. Attempting to define the tasty title here probably “This is a little text in praise of the grotesque” would suffice. This is the most apparent collaborative piece here as there is a perfect balance between participants, the voice as instrument, woven together, warped into submission, grasping for one last bit of air before being cut-off in the end.
ACCIDENTS MAY HAPPEN: Finally, All Beauty Is Our Enemy gives us a long hard look into the mirror of fate, an avalanche of abrasive feedback, coming in waves. I’m reminded of some of the most avant work by Cabaret Voltaire, just add volume. If you play this at full tilt you may scare away the neighborhood pets. P-Orridge comes off as a sneering narrator pontificating about god, accidents, flesh and nature, the collision of all of the above with a doubtful singsong refrain of “Survival by assimilation, elimination, abomination….I don’t think so…” Oddly it has the flavor of a folk song, one that is twisted to face im/moral dilemma. In the end most listeners will be left with a slightly distended lower jaw as this is one of those records that takes no prisoners, well worth a second spin.